Down With Deadlines

Posted: Updated:

I’m supposed to finish this article before midnight the Friday after next. There’s no practical difference between providing it an hour or a month early. If it’s late by one minute, my editor might only frown. If I miss the mark by a day or week or more, I lose the opportunity for publication. This is nothing unusual: just another deadline.

The reason we have deadlines is because they act as inflection points in the hierarchy of work. Once I submit this piece, it will be passed along for editing. The revised version will be checked for length and balanced against other potential articles. If my words are deemed worthy, a layout expert will divide my paragraphs into columns for an upcoming edition. Each phase of work has a deadline: an opportunity for failure and rejection. Each deadline is a gauntlet my work must pass on its way into your hands.

Deadlines might seem like a necessary aspect of all human endeavors. But the word itself doesn’t come from highly organized corporations.  The first recorded appearance of “deadline” in English dates from the Civil War. This usage indicates a point beyond which soldiers are authorized to shoot escaping prisoners. Stay within the zone, this term seems to promise, and you might not end up dead.

Anyone working on deadline can sympathize with these convicts. We too are trapped by an invisible line which we must not cross, and each step towards the point of no return fills us with impending dread. It’s true that completed work must be handed off from one person to the next, but perhaps we can find a better working model than one originally coined for violent reprisal. Perhaps we should focus not on what happens when we fail, but how and where we can work together.

Consider the article that I am now writing. It remains in my head and on my computer, unseen by my editor. As we approach the deadline, she may wonder if I have yet to write a single word or I am merely completing a few final touches. But what if instead of completing work and submitting before the deadline I kept her updated of my progress? What if at any point, she could check in to provide guidance or determine if I would be likely to finish on time? With this perspective, work no longer becomes a series of deadlines and handoffs but an overlap of zones of collaboration. Instead of waiting for the pass, we are running the play together.

A change away from deadlines toward collaboration zones cannot be done instantly or without coordination. If I send my editor an incremental update to this essay every day, it will result in annoyance rather than increased productivity. Instead, we need a way for us both to be able to view and edit these words at the same time without the hassle of managing file versions, sending documents via email, receiving and opening attachments and then replying with feedback. Furthermore, we should not ignore what happens next. Someone must eventually transition these words into a layout program. From my viewpoint, this tool is effectively another word processor. If all of us could make use of the same system for creating, reviewing, editing and publishing articles, we wouldn’t need to be focused on deadlines. Instead we could simply determine which of us have access to the content throughout different phases of production.

This proposal might sound like it requires advanced software, but the real challenge is psychological, not technological. There are many free programs that allow simultaneous collaborative editing of documents. Alternately, we could post successive versions on a large corkboard, mounted alongside the works-in-progress of other writers and editors.  This might well be a more effective and inclusive workflow for completing critical projects. The challenge is not the system, but the mindset. We’ve always done work another way: by threatening the harshest possible penalty if it’s offered a minute too late. Let’s rethink deadlines. Instead, let’s try working together.

Robby Slaughter is principal at AccelaWork LLC.

  • Perspectives

    • Creating the Work Spaces that Draw Talent to Indianapolis

      The future economy will be driven by data, powered by robotics and heavily invested in the building blocks of nature – biotech and genetic engineering. That’s true of the economy nationwide, and it’s especially true here in Indianapolis, where dominant pharmaceutical and biotech companies are putting us at the cutting edge of the science-based economy. It all sounds larger than life. But the facilities that will house these industries will always be...

    More

Subscribe

Name:
Company Name:
Email:
Confirm Email:
HTML
INside Edge
Morning Briefing
BigWigs & New Gigs
Life Sciences Indiana
Indiana Connections
INPower
Subscribe
Unsubscribe

Events



  • Most Popular Stories

    • Amanda Stephenson is the founder and president of Expert RN|MD. (Inside INdiana Business Photo/Mary-Rachel Redman)

      Medical Consulting Firm Opens Downtown Indy HQ

      A medical consulting startup is celebrating the grand opening of its new downtown Indianapolis headquarters. The Indiana Economic Development Corp. says Expert RN|MD, which provides medical consultation services to law firms and life science companies, is investing $1.7 million in the new location and plans to create up to 21 jobs by the end of 2023. The firm was founded in 2018 and recently renovated the 4,000-square-foot space in the downtown's Wholesale District. In an interview...

    • Allison and Stanley Chen provided the lead gift for the campaign. (Provided Photo/ISI)

      International School Launches Capital Campaign

      The International School of Indiana has publicly launched a capital campaign to establish a unified campus in Indianapolis. As part of the ONE ISI campaign, the school is looking to raise $6.5 million to build a new school building for pre-elementary and elementary students at the site of its middle and high schools. The public launch follows a 10-month silent phase of the campaign, during which ISI raised $5 million from more than two dozen donors. Currently, ISI's operations are...

    • Rendering courtesy of the city of Fort Wayne

      Mayor Henry Announces Developer for $70M Project

      Fort Wayne Mayor Tom Henry has named Indianapolis-based Barrett & Stokely the developer for a $70 million project on the city's riverfront near Promenade Park. The company was selected from a group of five firms that submitted requests for proposals to spearhead the project.

    • Money magazine judges Fishers as 3rd best place to live in the U.S.

      Fishers Makes Top 10 List of 'Best Places to Live'

      Three communities in Indiana made the top 100 list of best places to live in the country, but only one made the top 10. Fishers was judged by Money magazine as the third best place to live in the United States, behind Clarksville, Tennessee and Round Rock, Texas.

    • The person selected will fill the vacancy on the ballot left by Mike Pence.

      Vice President Pence to Visit Indy for Free-Trade Discussion

      Vice President Mike Pence will return to Indianapolis on Sept. 26 at an event to discuss the free trade agreement with Canada and Mexico. A panel will discuss the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement, or USMCA, starting at 12:15 p.m. Sept. 26 at MacAllister Machinery, 6300 Southeastern Ave.